Too often, students revert to the comfortable confines of the five-paragraph expository essay that has been drilled into them since middle school.
“If it bores you, don’t give it to me,” read a banner a colleague once hung in his classroom. That caveat rings true throughout every aspect of college essay writing, from 150-word responses explaining your desire to attend a certain college to the one-page personal statement.
Here is more application writing advice.
Admissions officers read thousands of college essays every season, so a student’s writing must engage the reader right from the start, with crisp storytelling and sharply focused writing. College essays are read quickly; an admissions officer might give the personal statement five minutes of attention. Thus, unlike academic writing, where high school students are often rewarded for quantity over quality, application writing cannot meander or waste precious words.
One must have a point and quickly get to it. In the space of 600 words, students must tell a tight story that holds the admissions officer’s attention and compels the reader to want to know the author better. Successful applicants employ the ingredients of good storytelling (conflict, climax and resolution). Ideally, the essay at its conclusion causes the officer to respond with a satisfying, “Tell me more…” response. Great essays inspire readers to want to know you better and invite you to become a member of their community.
Use your voice
Too often, high school seniors revert to the comfortable confines of the five-paragraph expository essay that has been drilled into them since middle school. Appropriate creativity, nuanced observation and personal voice have all but vanished from a senior’s writing skill set. Because high school students grapple with producing analytical essays dissecting literature in their AP English classes or constructing logical, evidence-laden legal briefs for APUSH, the art of memoir writing has been lost.
The college essay process asks seniors to reclaim the first-person point of view, an elusive and awkward task for seniors negotiating the high-stakes pressure of applications. Further, applicants need to understand and utilize lively word choice (diction) and varied sentence structure (syntax). Frequently, application writing lulls the admissions officer to sleep with fourth-grade vocabulary and monotonous subject-verb sentence arrangement. Great application writing is anything but a lab report or academic essay; it’s a grand opportunity to show the world you can write, and write well!
Show your maturity
Suddenly, in the fall of senior year, students must focus the academic lens with which they have scrutinized texts inward, upon themselves. Finally, the student’s life is the subject. Bent on production and output, applicants must examine their personal experiences, searching for just the right anecdotes to demonstrate growth. Seniors must present thoughtfully chosen examples from their lives as proof of maturing opinion and behavior. College essays, particularly the personal statement, offer young adults the ripe opportunity to become the protagonist in their own Hero’s Journey, offering the reader powerful insight into the student’s life choices and character. Admissions officers thrill to read a student’s sophisticated self-critique and wry observations about who the student was before a certain incident, and who they then became. While an essay does not have to offer a tidy conclusion, a personal statement must impart a clear sense of growth in thought and action.
Fundamentally, admissions officers are hungry for evidence that a student will be a zesty, engaged member of the university, ready to seize hold of their collegiate experience not only for self-actualization, but to make the college community, and world, a better place.
Contributed by Emily Wagner Gallagher, an independent educational consultant at Edge Academics & Athletics in Lake Forest Park.